The August Bank Holiday has to be dealt with each year, like other Bank Holidays. In disposing of our summer leisure time we face choices. “Doing anything for the long weekend?”. “Yes. Drinking and tweeting”. Or “No”. Both of these answers leave a sense of unloved dysfunctionality so this year as ever we resolved to brace ourselves for Bank Holiday delirium.
On the Friday morning we made a last-minute decision to travel to Kerry from Dublin and break up the journey with an overnight stay in Killarney. During my vanishing lunch hour I quickly searched Booking.com, which I’ve used many times, and got a double room in a B&B with the innocuous name of Abbey Lodge.
It was pricey at €124 but there wasn’t much left to choose from, in Killarney. If Killarney thinks it is Cap d’Antibes that’s something we have to live with. And the problem is pervasive in Ireland: Jurys in Dublin charges €180 for a double room in summer. Anyway ‘Abbey Lodge’ was in the town centre which would save us money on taxis and we’d be up and out early.
Our bus journey to Killarney encompassed stopping off in Limerick for a couple of hours to have dinner with my parents: smug now, as we had actual Bank Holiday plans. Our dublincoach.ie bus was due to leave at 10pm from Limerick city centre. I had factored this timing in and selected time of arrival to our innocuous B&B on Booking.com as 11pm-12 midnight.
Waiting at the bus stop at 10pm I looked at my mobile phone, which had been switched off during dinner, noticing four missed calls. I rang a number back, to a woman who failed to disguise the fact that she was put out by the missed calls: “I was trying to ring you since 8.30pm”. She explained that Abbey Lodge is a “house” (albeit, we noted, one with 15 bedrooms, presumably each charged at up to €124 nightly), that it normally does not accept arrivals after 6pm but that she had made an exception as it was a Bank Holiday – until 8pm. When she realised that we hadn’t arrived by 6pm, she rang to say that she couldn’t take the booking after 8pm and that this had been stated in the confirmation email from Booking.com. But, damningly for her and damningly for Booking.com the ‘confirmation email’ appears to accept our invitation to book us in from midnight by agreeing to book us from 6pm. Anyone with any awareness of the law will know there was simply no agreement of minds. No contract.
In effect – Us: “we’re arriving 11pm-12”
Them: “ok, you’re arriving before 8pm”.
No agreement. No contract.
I explained that we were getting the 10pm bus to Killarney with expected arrival at 11.35pm. The bus still hadn’t arrived and not wanting to lose the room I lied saying that our bags were on the bus and that if the booking had not been secured I had no problem removing them. Not responding well to her tone I suggested she cancel the booking and refund the €124 since it was so much hassle. She, pre-emptively and unnecessarily I felt, was soon making an issue of the fact that she was six months pregnant and how much we were putting her out. Her phone was then taken from her by an, I assume, older woman (her mother?) who was much more mannerly, telling me that we could still check in straight after our bus came in at 11.35pm.
We all bade our goodbyes. Still no sign of the bus.
After an hour we decided to ring the B&B to tell them the situation. I couldn’t bear to engage with the younger of the landladies again so my friend made the call. He explained that the bus still hadn’t arrived and asked “what do you advise us to do?”. But the landlady had no suggestions about expediting arrival, leaving a key out, calling when we knew what was happening with the bus – or anything.
He reminded her that they had agreed to accept us up until midnight and we had an hour until then. He stated there were legal consequences from the exchange of emails and this. She denied there were legal consequences, and told him we were ‘no shows’ and that she would be taking our €124.
She was not even giving us an opportunity to arrive by midnight. My friend noted that she was charging a great deal of money and seemed to feel herself unrealistically entitled.
The bus eventually arrived an hour and a half late, blaming accidents on the N7. We had the option of taking the bus and just arriving at the door of the Abbey Lodge at 1am and demanding the room it had now said it would not provide or paying for a room in a hotel in Limerick. We chose not to take the risk of finding ourselves locked out in the middle of the night in Killarney, forking out €85 (not including breakfast) on top of the €124. Before midnight I emailed Abbey Lodge copying Booking.com so they would have our side of the story. From a legal perspective.
“We have indicated to you at Abbey lodge that we are getting a bus to you but it has been delayed. You have told us that our booking is no longer welcome in the circumstances because we are so late (though it was a condition of the booking that we could not be there until midnight), that it is ‘a house’, that the landlady is six months pregnant, that there are ‘no legal consequences’ and that you have taken our €124. In the circumstances we are legally entitled to an immediate refund and we ask you to please facilitate this”.
I then received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org asking, inevitably, if we were a no show. And then the following:
From Booking.com: “Abbey Lodge notified us that you didn’t check-in [last night].
Dear Emma Gilleece,
Thank you for contacting the Booking.com Customer Service team.
We are sorry to hear that you could not stay at Abbey Lodge on this occasion.
We had checked the messages between you and the property, were the property say they were willing to hold your room until midnight, because you had informed that you were arriving late.
According to the conditions of the reservation the check-in time is until 18hrs, and the property was able to make an exception. We are sorry to know that you weren’t able to be accommodated at the property.
Although the property already stated that they will charge the reservation, because they held the room for you, we are going to reach the property on your behalf to try to negotiate this charge. Please bear in mind that Booking.com doesn’t take payments, the property does so we need the concern [sic] of the property regarding the refund.
Again we are sorry about your experience and we will do our best to find a positive solution for you.
We hope to be of service to you again soon, and thank you for choosing Booking.com.
Booking.com Customer Service Team
Unfortunately I received a subsequent email from Booking.com where it aligned itself with Abbey Lodge, citing its rule about no check-ins after 8pm – failing to recognise that this meant that there was no contract and that it owed us a refund but also failing to mention that – belying this – Abbey Lodge, had purported to agree on the phone that we could arrive at 11.35.
Our money had been taken and would not be coming back.
This whole experience left us with a bad taste in our mouth and all I can think of when I think of Killarney is how we were treated by Abbey Lodge. Booking.com should not have allowed the booking to be processed if I indicated my expected time of arrival was between 11pm and 12am. They literally left us stranded in Limerick at 11pm.
It seems that in a couple of generations we have gone from Ireland of the Welcomes to Ireland of the Enforced No-Shows: the once-innocent Céad Mile Fáilte yielding to material delight at the thought of touristic profit, by any means. It could leave a lot of people with a bitter taste in their mouths from the not so hospitable hospitality sector.
Proving that holidays play tricks on the mind, two weeks later we planned to arrive in Manchester. I booked into the Merchants Hotel, Piccadilly, in the centre of the city at the extraordinarily attractive price of £42 at 5 o’clock on the day.
As the plane was taking off the phone rang. It was the Merchants Hotel. They couldn’t take the booking as we’d given arrival time as 11 and they closed the desk at 10pm. You have to be streetwise so I pretended I couldn’t hear and hung up. We could consider where we stood – in all the circumstances – over pretzels and subsize mixers.
On the train into Manchester we called them back. They said… guess what… that their cutoff was 10pm. My practised friend was on to this and an animated discussion developed, to the amusement of jetlagged international travellers in the carriage, over the fact they’d already accepted the booking. My friend said we’d need a meal first, and arrive at ten to twelve. The receptionist took this as some time between ten and twelve and a row ensued in which issue was taken with the poor man’s English. He hit back saying my friend was cheeky and even, which he had no right to do, that he would take the fee and not provide the accommodation. It was explained that this was in breach of contract. The receptionist hung up. But he called back.
Taking this as conciliatory my friend said we’d come straight away and arrive around 10.30pm, the best we could do.
When we arrived warm handshakes were exchanged and the now amused receptionist upgraded us (to an ensuite). A civilised outcome.
No thanks to Booking.com
The non-specific response to this article from Booking.com was as follows:
“As our primary aim is to help facilitate smooth and enjoyable travel experiences for our customers, we work to ensure that property policies and important reservation-related information are clearly displayed for them throughout the booking process as well as on their confirmation. If our customers ever have any questions about their stay, including arranging a late check-in time, our support team is available 24/7 to assist, find solutions and advocate on their behalf”.